Ignacio Casale (pictured), the 2014 Dakar Rally winner in the quads, picked up right where he left off in Sunday’s opening 175km stage of the 2015 edition.
The Chilean rider has already built up a lead of one minute, seven seconds over Poland’s Rafal Sonik, the man he defeated for the top prize twelve months ago.
Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente is an additional 16 seconds back of Sonik in third position following Stage 1.
“The stage was great and very fast,” Casale said. “I think I did a good stage. I was at ease, although I would’ve liked the quad to attain a higher peak speed, but we’ll see to that.
“I had to ease up a bit towards the end to preserve the clutch…The race starts now and I’m looking forward to giving it my all.”
Another Uruguayan, Mauro Almeida, is currently fourth (+2:41) and Qatar’s Mohammed Abu-Issa runs fifth at a shade over three minutes behind the defending quads champ.
A strong battle for top honors in the trucks went to Iveco’s Hans Stacey, who sits atop the category by a margin of 35 seconds over MAN’s Marcel Van Vliet. Van Vliet had been leading through the first two checkpoints of the stage.
Another MAN driver, Ales Loprais, finished third in the stage and is 47 seconds behind.
This year’s Dakar is important for Stacey, a former overall winner who is coming off a retirement in 2013 and a subpar seventh-place finish in 2014.
“I’m over the moon, I’d marked this stage down,” he said on Sunday. “I was driving in Loprais’ wake, but we did a good job. I’ve had problems two years in a row, but this time round everything’s on track and I feel very strong. Mentally too. This doesn’t guarantee anything, but everything’s in place.
“To win this race, all the stars need to be aligned. I believe everything’s ready and organized for me to win. So we’ll try to keep it up…”
Defending truck champion Andrey Karginov of the KAMAZ team did not have a good start to his title defense, coming to the end in 11th position, three minute and 16 seconds back of Stacey.
Coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally starts Monday afternoon on NBCSN. Get your full Dakar TV schedule here.